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Whos Taking Care of Our Menopausal Nurses?

Natalie Sofia, MSN-Ed, NC-BC, RN

Contrary to popular belief, menopause just doesnt show up one day out of the blue. The body starts letting women know its coming long before it arrives. This period, known as perimenopause, marks the time when hormone levels become erratic and produce symptoms that negatively impact multiple body systems. It can start around age 40 and last about eight to ten years. Symptoms are unique to each woman and may either be mild or severe as they transition into menopause. Common perimenopausal complaints include weight gain, sleep difficulties, changes in mood, anxiety, and low libido. Vasomotor symptoms (VMS), characterized by night sweats and hot flashes, are also reported and can happen at any time during the menopause transition.

How does a woman know she has reached menopause? The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) considers menopause official when the final menstrual period is followed by 12 months of no periods. This may sound ideal, but it brings with it certain risks. Menopausal women can experience weight gain, hypertension, diabetes, thyroid disorders, and sleep apnea. They are also at risk for cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis.

A Study of Menopausal Nurses

Menopausal symptoms sometimes blindside women in general, and they may not realize that they are related to hormonal changes. Female nurses are no different, as they can assume that their symptoms are age-related or due to something else entirely. The unpredictability of perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms can wreak havoc on the ability to manage the day-to-day responsibilities of a job, childcare, elder care, and even self-care. This time can be overwhelming for female nurses who are trying to manage their hormonal changes and life responsibilities. Add to that caring for sick patients in a stressful work environment, and you have a situation that has potential consequences for the nurse and those she cares for.

A study published in Nursing Management in 2023 examined the caregiving abilities of nurses experiencing perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms. The nurses reported how sleep disturbances, VMS, and emotional changes negatively impacted their work.

Sleep Disturbances

Female nurses in perimenopause described how sleep disturbances left them feeling exhausted. Some said that hot flashes and night sweats were the cause of their sleeplessness and left them feeling fatigued and unable to function well at work.

Vasomotor Symptoms

Menopausal nurses stated that increased use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and poorly ventilated rooms exacerbated VMS. This resulted in them having to pause their care so that they could remove gowns and gloves or open doors to cool themselves. Some even reported worrying about sweat dropping on a patient during procedures.

Emotional Changes

Perimenopausal nurses reported emotional changes, such as anxiety, depression, irritability, mood swings, lack of focus, and memory disruptions. One nurse described forgetting to give a patient their medication, while another gave a patient the wrong medication. Yet another nurse had to leave her assignment during her shift due to the inability to cope with the stress of her job.

Performance Issues

Performance issues at work have left menopausal nurses feeling anxious and less confident about the safety of their care and the protection of their patients. This has caused absenteeism, medical leave, role changes, and leaving the profession altogether.

Female nurses, who have cared for and supported their patients and colleagues for so many years, have become the ones in need of menopausal care and support. So, if they are caring for their patients, who is taking care of menopausal nurses in the workplace?

Workplace Support Options

Interestingly, some nurses felt like they could not talk about their symptoms due to feeling embarrassed and being perceived as old or unable to handle their job responsibilities. The study recommended that nurse leaders become educated about menopause and advocate for the support of menopausal nurses in the workplace. Nursing leaders could consider adding wellness programs and addressing performance issues by providing checklists to decrease errors or implementing a double-check method of nursing care practices. Policy changes that encourage the use of vacation time and management involvement in menopausal awareness would allow for a more menopausal-friendly work environment. Such improvements could help retain female nurses, enhance workplace experience, and improve patient care.

Female nurses in the study felt that workplace adaptations would benefit them in navigating menopausal symptoms and patient care. These included lighter patient assignments, self-shift scheduling, adjusting work hours, better-ventilated rooms, and a comfortable lounge area.

Call To Action

Every female nurse will inevitably experience a menopausal transition in midlife. The change is temporary, but without care and concern for menopausal nurses, their health can suffer, as can the safety and care of their patients. Healthcare leaders in the workplace can assume the role of taking care of their caregivers by listening to and accommodating their needs. Lets get this conversation started!

About the Author:

Natalie Sofia has spent the majority of her nursing career as a NICU nurse. More recently, she has worked as a nurse educator and became board-certified as a nurse coach. Natalie is passionate about women's holistic health and supporting them as they transition into midlife.

Natalie is an independent contributor to CEUfast's Nursing Blog Program. Please note that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this blog post are solely of the independent contributor and do not necessarily represent those of CEUfast. This blog post is not medical advice. Always consult with your personal healthcare provider for any health-related questions or concerns.

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